When Ben Sosoli made his UFC debut in Boston last year, it didn't really sink in until the cage door closed.
Booked as an injury replacement to fight against Greg Hardy, the Kiwi heavyweight had about two weeks between learning he'd made it to the UFC and making his debut.
"I looked down at the gloves and they said UFC. It was kind of like 'holy s*** I'm fighting in the UFC right now'," Sosoli recalled to the Herald. "Then I just proceeded to ignore my coach and act like I was having a street fight for the whole time."
• Premium - UFC Auckland: Joshua Culibao booked as replacement to fight Jalin Turner at UFC Fight Night 168
• Premium - UFC Auckland: Angela Hill steps up on short notice as injury replacement at UFC Fight Night 168
• Premium - UFC Auckland: Fight Night 168 loses another fighter to injury
• Premium - MMA: Another blow for UFC Auckland as fan favourite withdraws due to personal reasons
The Melbourne-based fighter was beaten by unanimous decision by Hardy, but the result was later overturned to a no-contest as Hardy had used an inhaler between the second and third rounds, an action which is prohibited during competition.
For most fighters, it would have been a strange way to begin their UFC career. For Sosoli, it was just the latest chapter in what has been a weird road to mixed martial arts' biggest stage. Sosoli fought on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series last year – a series where fighters are selected to audition for a UFC contract – but his bout ended in a no-contest as his opponent couldn't fight through an accidental eye poke.
After the bout, UFC boss Dana White said he would be giving Sosoli another chance to fight for a UFC contract as part of the Looking for a Fight series, but instead gave him a short-notice UFC bout.
While the fight was decided by unusual means, with some calling for Hardy to be disqualified for using an inhaler rather than the fight being called a no-contest, Sosoli was hopeful those weird ways were behind him.
"Hopefully that's all out of my system now and I can just get back to having normal fights that I can win without any controversy and start making my way up the rankings," he said.
"Even if they did give me the win, I didn't win. I didn't fight well at all, didn't listen to what I was meant to do so I kind of don't look at it as being a no contest; it's a loss. I didn't do anything I was meant to do at all. I've just got to take that in and make sure I listen to the game plan for this fight coming up."
Sosoli will return to the octagon next week, making the walk at Spark Arena as part of UFC Fight Night 168 in Auckland. The 30-year-old will square off against UFC veteran Marcos Rogerio de Lima, who has won 16 of his 22 professional bouts.
Conor McGregor moves one step closer to blockbuster fight
Mark Hunt: Talk of fight against NRL star 'just annoying'
'He's going to feel that': Late call up ready to shock at UFC Auckland
With a 13-week camp under his belt, working alongside teammates Callan Potter, Jimmy Crute and Jake Matthews, who will all be fighting on the Auckland card as well, Sosoli said he is looking forward to the fight now that he's had a full fight camp.
"Because we've got the other three guys on, everyone starts peaking at the same time. At the training sessions, sparring can get pretty crazy and it's good because when one person is having a bad day you've got three other guys to pick you up and keep pushing you," Sosoli said.
"I probably equalled the amount of time I've trained in my life all up just with this one camp, so it should be good.
"I've always wanted to do longer camps, but it's just because, for example the Contender fight – I fought in (Australian promotion) Hex not long before that. Then the Greg Hardy fight, I had just got back from Thailand and only had a couple of weeks. It just usually comes down to timing."
Sosoli expects to show a completely different approach to his performance against Hardy in Boston, one he admits was not his finest 15 minutes.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Ben Sosoli (@ben.sosoli) on
"You can go into the mode you go into just when you get into a fight just in normal life, or you can be focused and prepared and ready to see the fight for what it is – it's a professional sport and we need to be professional about it when we compete. There's no real room in MMA to try just be tough and try act like you're just having a one-on-one. As long as I stay focused and act like a professional, it'll be easier to do what I need to do."
When asked about what fans will see this time around, he said: "Someone doing what they're meant to do and not just someone who's trying to have a pub brawl."